The English Tradition

You can’t discuss tea in England without touching upon socioeconomic issues. The Brits have two entirely different types of tea, one associated with the working class, the other with the middle and upper classes.

“Afternoon tea” or “low tea” (named for that common late afternoon feeling of low energy) is a formal late afternoon snack generally associated with high society. This is the tea at which dainty treats like crumpets and finger sandwiches are served. It is said to have developed in the 18th and 19th centuries as the main meal of the day, dinner, was shifting from midday to early evening. A new meal called “luncheon” was born, and to fill the gap between it and dinner, people started having tea and food in the late afternoon. Afternoon tea also created yet another occasion for high society to socialize.

“High tea,” on the other hand, is linked to the working class population. As tea prices dropped in the 19th century, the lower classes could afford to serve tea with the evening meal as well as the midday one – and high tea (also called “meat tea” or simply “tea”) was born. More of a meal than a snack, it usually includes more substantial savory dishes and meats, such as roast beef and mashed potatoes, in addition to sweets and tea. The meal centers on food and family, in contrast to afternoon tea’s focus on conversation, hospitality, and gourmet nibbles.